Competitive Attacks

Since we launched almost a year ago, I’ve been amazed that OpenSolaris has not been attacked that much in the press by Sun’s competitors. Before we launched, sure, we were attacked a lot, but since we opened our code — and have been regularly releasing code ever since — the engineers and developers have been doing the talking and that conversation has been based on work, not spin. And I think the results speak for themselves, don’t you? Personally, I think this is extraordinary. People still take shots at Sun (hell, that’s sport these days), but OpenSolaris doesn’t seem to be a target — which is great. I think we are slowly earning our credibility in an understated way as we just go about our business of opening more code, implementing an open development model, and building a community.

This experience has transformed my views of marketing, engineering, communications, media, community development, corporate competitive strategies, and executive communications — all of which intersect occasionally and sometimes even overlap (which is sometimes good and sometimes bad) on any large project. Before this job I specialized in competitive PR, which means I attacked and responded a lot — just like politicians twisting facts and verbally assaulting each other every day in the media with the support of legions of irrational partisans. But I also specialized in getting sick to my stomach when we were attacked by competitors and when I was directed to attack back. I used anger to fight back, and I fought very, very hard. I hated it. It did nothing but cause pain. And I felt that the so-called positive PR benefits were trivial and fleeting at best. Dumb choice of careers if you are not into that sort of thing, I realize, but that’s long over now.

Well, I think I’ve finally detoxed because when I read this recent attack on OpenSolaris — Open Solaris a source of contention — I didn’t get sick at all. I didn’t get angry. I just laughed. True, I’m not in marketing anymore, so it’s not my job to potentially respond to these sorts of things, but for a long time I felt the attacks deeply and responded to many of them. The truth is that the vast majority of attacks in the press are so unsophisticated and extreme that they are pretty easy to undermine. The mistake many companies make is to attack back so hard that they draw yet more competitive attacks in the press. And around they go. The best attacks, on the other hand, leave no fingerprints whatsoever. Those are the ones that can absolutely be devastating to an organization. However, this particular attack in question is, well, just embarrassing for the attacker. So that’s why I laughed. I mean, read the article. How could you not laugh, right? Dennis, Ben, Stephen, James, and Stephen all dive into the specifics of why the attacker is so completely wrong. I can’t really add any substance to their arguments, so there’s not much for me to say about the article’s itself. But what interests me even more is this — what generated this attack? Why now? Did the attacker just decide to attack on the spot? Was he prompted? Was he set up? Was it planned by executive support staff or marketing and PR staff? Was an unknown third party involved and behind it? What result was expected?

I’d love to see the briefing document on this one. Wouldn’t you?



11 thoughts on “Competitive Attacks

  1. ux-admin … thanks. In engineering we worked very (very) hard to have it this way. It wasn’t easy, but we believed totally in the concept, so we pushed for it. There certainly is a role for the innovative marketing and PR pros in our operations on OpenSolaris (and on other open source projects at Sun), but the communication to developers and by developers is unfiltered engineer-to-engineer adn that’s only going to increase. Now, you hit on an interesting bit in your first sentence: that this is an excellent “marketing” strategy. That’s what I want our marketing and PR people to understand — that good, unfiltered communications is *also* good marketing.


  2. Christopher … I agree with you (about 90 percent), but I’m not all the way there yet. I do want to respond in some situations but not necessarily trigger a second attack with an over-reaction to the first. In other words, I don’t want to be a part of public pissing matches but sometimes ignoring is not the best answer either. I’m looking for a middle ground on this issue — on which my position has evolved greatly.


  3. Jim,

    What you wrote about yourself on your reaction to attack, about getting sick to your stomach, anger, and wanting revenge, is how most suits react. It’s generally immature and petty. However, for most of them, the very reason they have fancy titles and positions of power is because they feel like they were hit in the gut (take things a bit too personally) and want bloody revenge (overreact). For them, that has been the path to success, and that is why this sort of behavior is seen in the high reaches of corporate governance and politics.

    Software developers, engineers, and the kind that post build logs on their blogs (hi blaster) are much more logical, rational, and tend not to take all that personally.

    Now you know why geeks find the posturing and shenanigans of lusers quite amusing, as well as a colossal waste of time.

    Do what we do: Ignore and don’t feed the trolls.


  4. The comments from the Novell exec were simply inaccurate impressions uttered in an unguarded moment. My concern is not that this could have been an “attack” or that it could have been a premeditated stunt to create a FUD cloud. Let’s leave the conspiracy theories to Oliver Stone.
    My concern is the inaccuracy–implying that OpenSolaris is a “fork” of a code base that many believe to be technically inferior to the Solaris code we open sourced last year.
    So it’s just the facts, man. Not the movitation.


  5. One of the best things Sun did in terms of marketing, was let the engineers themselves write and communicate about the product they’re making.

    I’m deeply convinced that no better marketing could have been conceived. The writings of Sun engineers are revolutionizing the way a vendor communicates with his customers and with the community. No PR, no BS, just clean honest facts and technical implementation details, by the people, for the people.

    Sun has revolutionized the way marketing of a product is done, and is once again breaking new ground and showing that it is capable of innovation.

    And, on a personal note, I admire Sun because of the fact that, when everybody else (IBM, SGI, hp) got down on their knees and groveled for mercy before the Linux Penguin, Sun did not yield, did not bow, and pressed on with its Vision.

    That takes guts, and I’d much rather stick with a company that has a spine then with a company that doesn’t trust their own product to have a future, ala IBM (AIX), SGI (IRIX) and hp (HP-UX).


  6. IP address Correct. That was not an attack *by* the press; it was an attack *in* the press (by a competitor). I don’t want to imply that press had anything to do with it — other than doing their job.


  7. Jim,
    Keep up the EXCELLENT work!
    I would request the previous commentor credit Mr. Gandhi regarding his often repeated passage.
    “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi


  8. I don’t believe this was an attack by the press, but instead the usual FUD and banter from a competitor. First they ignored OpenSolaris. Now they are in the ridicule stage. So next they will fight OpenSolaris.


Comments are closed.